“Reporting from the Far West”

Melissa Chan has more about the difficulties of reporting in China, this time from Xinjiang. As always, the government does its best to silence minority voices:

Viewers may notice an insufficient representation of Uighur voices in our stories.

On the one hand, there are about an equal number of Han Chinese now living in Xinjiang as Uighurs, and their voices should be included.

On the other hand, we were followed by plainclothes officers for the entire duration of our trip as we hopped from Urumqi, to Kashgar, to Hotan.

As many as seven or eight men in two vehicles would follow the team from a distance of 300 metres behind.

At almost no point were we ever prevented from carrying out our work, but it did not seem wise to approach Uighurs and ask them questions, either.

In one instance, we were approached by a curious local. A Uighur blacksmith peddling knives wrought with intricate designs came up to speak to us.

After about a one-minute conversation, I excused myself. Some 30 seconds later, he was pulled aside by plainclothes police officers and questioned about the contents of our conversation.

We were not entirely unwelcome. The foreign affairs offices in both Urumqi and Kashgar assisted us as much as they could and said we were welcome to report freely in Xinjiang as far as they were concerned.

The openness of certain departments within the government against the restrictiveness of others should be instructional for Chinese officials if they care about how international media organisations cover the country.

Our access to the dairy farm was informative, and I was able to report the encouraging fact that the majority of workers there were ethnic Uighurs: proof that at least in some instances, the investments the country has made in Xinjiang have directly benefited the ethnic minority.

For the rest of our trip, we were disadvantaged by the fact that we had no Uighur-language translator.

One had been hired, only to be dragged to the police station the night before our team’s arrival. Interrogated and threatened, he opted out of working for us.

Therefore we could not ask any questions examining the migration issue, the possible sense of identity lost on the part of Uighurs, the feelings locals may have about their loss of their homogeneity in the region, or perhaps their ambivalence about the money pouring into the area.

We could not report by asking questions, so we reported as best we could by observation.

In our stories, you will see old alleyways compared to new, gleaming structures. You will see paved highways where there were once dirt roads. Yet, you will also see an entire population of people, voiceless in our pieces.

It’s always funny to contrast this with the statements made by the foreign ministry. “No, Xinjiang and Tibet are open, anyone can come and see for themselves how happy the people are in these regions!” Then they get to work denying visa requests and intimidating potential interviewees. Foreign politicians are occasionally given junkets in Lhasa, but one overarching theme you hear from every person to have gone on such a trip is that they were carefully sequestered away from any Tibetans who hadn’t been hand-picked by the government. Open, indeed.

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Filed under intimidation, journalism, Xinjiang

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